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Weela - A Community Hero:
by Ruth Gordon
"It Takes a Dog to raise a Village"

Why Do Male Dogs Lift Their Legs:
by Tom Davis
"Why Dogs Do That"

Partings:
by Arthur Vanderbilt
"Golden Days"

The Dog:
by Susan Schaeffer
"To Absent Friends"

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Golden Fever

Weela: A Community Hero
Taken From:
It Takes a Dog to raise a Village.




If you drove up the road leading to the Watkins' ranch near Imperial Beach, California in 1994, you would have been greeted by a remarkable dog named Weela, a 65-pound, female American pit bull terrier. Officially an American Staffordshire terrier, and sometimes known as a Yankee terrier, the pit bull's unfortunate reputation comes from the men who took advantage of the breed's rare courage by training them to be bloody, fighting tools for unscrupulous gamblers. Without such training, an American pit bull terrier is intelligent, easily trained, strongly attached to its owner, and guardian of its owner's property. The American Pit Bull is often called "the most courageous animal ever born."

Weela was never taught to fight, nor was she harshly disciplined, so her behavior contrasts sharply with the pit bull's stereotypic reputation for viciousness. Weela was brought up surrounded by an affectionate family who taught her basic obedience and good manners. She was allowed to examine her world of animals and humans without undue restraint. She lived as an ordinary loving and beloved family pet, but her life was anything but ordinary. It was as if Weela had her own destiny and reason for being from the start.

One of ten puppies abandoned and left to die in a back alley in Imperial Beach, California, Weela's start in life was precarious. A near tragedy was averted by a chance encounter. Good fortune came to these puppies when Lori Watkins, an animal lover, happened to go to town to do some errands the day after the puppies were abandoned. Lori parked her car and started her errands, walking several bocks, stopping at the drug store, bakery, and dry cleaners. As she walked past an alley she heard some strange sounds. They were not very loud, but they sounded like the wimpering of an animal or animals in distress. After she finished her errands, she walked back to the alley. She entered the alley and walked slowly in the direction of the sound to investigate its source. Lori was astonished to find a litter of ten puppies, apparently abandoned by both the mother and the mother's owner. She later found out that the puppies' mother was a very young American pit bull terrier that had been bred too young. When the owner discovered that the young mother, almost a puppy herself, was inadequate for her job, the owner decided to get rid of the puppies.

Once Lorie discovered the source of the strange sounds, she hurriedly carried her purchases back to her car and drove straight to the alley where the puppies were huddled together crying for food and water. She gathered them up in an old car blanket, put them in a carton she had in the back seat, and drove them home to her ranch not far from the city.
When Lori arrived home with her unusual cargo, the whole Watkins family enthusiastically pitched in and planned how to help the newest additions to their family. They fed them, watered them, played with them, kept them warm and gave them the love they so needed—the puppies had a family of human surrogate parents. It was not long before the puppies started to flourish and grow.

From the very beginning, one of the pups, a female, took a shine to the Watkins' young son. She would not let him out of her sight. She slept with him and followed him everywhere he went. In truth, this little puppy, whom they named Weela, adopted the young boy by simply claiming him as hers.

As the puppies grew older and stronger, one by one Lori found a good home for each of them—that is, all but one. Needless to say, Weela stayed on to live with the Watkins family. Finding these puppies in such a vulnerable state led to Lori's special interest in the spay/neutering program of the Humane Society.

Weela grew up to be a very happy 65-pound adult dog. She loved to run loose on the ranch, visiting with the horses, cows and chickens. She was unafraid of all but one of the animals. The only animal that baffled Weela was the goat. She was always terrified of the goat.

The family seems pretty certain that the goat never charged her. Perhaps she feared the goat because he always put his head down in a menacing way or because he had such a funny voice. No one knows. For whatever reason, Weela was always very careful to stay out of the goat's way. Weela also had her favorite animals. Her most favorite was a potbelly pig who seemed equally happy to see Weela when she came dancing and sniffing around. They sometimes seemed to have serious conversations about life and their lives in particular.

Weela also participated in all the activities of the human members of her family. She loved to swim and when the family went fishing, she was there. When the family went horseback riding up the nearby trails, Weela followed along. And when the family relaxed, she joined them on the couch, typical of most people's pets.

If Weela was such a typical pet, what made her different? In 1993, Weela became the Ken-L-Ration Dog Hero of the Year, the 40th dog so honored since the awards began in 1954. She earned this award because of the extraordinary courage she exhibited during a California flood. Weela did not just perform one act of heroism as so many other winners had, nor was her heroism solely directed toward her owners. Weela went on countless missions to rescue both strangers and animals over a period of three months. During this time she is credited with saving 30 people, 29 dogs, 13 horses, and one cat, all of whom most likely would have died during the large-scale winter flooding in southern California.

In January 1993, heavy rains caused a dam to break miles upstream on the Tijuana River. Normally a narrow, three-foot-wide river, the dam break caused wild raging waters to isolate both people and animals for almost three months. When the dam first broke through, Lori and Dan Watkins and Weela went to a neighbor's ranch to try to rescue their friend's 12 dogs. Together, they worked for six hours battling heavy rains, strong currents, and floating debris before they were able to reach the ranch to rescue the dogs. The Watkins were amazed at Weela's extraordinary ability to recognize quicksand, dangerous drop-offs, and mud bogs. She worked diligently and never let up. Both the tenaciousness and strength of her bull dog ancestors were exhibited throughout the day. Lori Watkins said, "She was constantly willing to put herself in dangerous situations. She always took the lead except to circle back if someone needed help." Weela's instinctive judgments seemed to be accurate without exception. The Watkins attributed a great deal of their success in rescuing the neighbor's dogs to Weela's efforts.

During the next month, 17 dogs and one cat were found to be stranded on an island. On several occasions, Weela swam to the island, each time pulling 30 to 50 pounds of dog food that had been loaded into a backpack harnessed to her back. This took enormous strength as well as courage. Weela continued to provide these animals with food until they were finally evacuated on Valentine's Day.

During the peak of the flood, thirteen horses became stranded on a large manure pile where they had sought refuge from the raging waters. The frightened animals had become completely surrounded by flood waters. A rescue team used Weela to guide them through the rapidly flowing waters until all of the horses were finally brought to safe ground.

One day when Weela was returning from one of her food deliveries to stranded animals, she came upon a group of 30 people who were attempting to cross the flood waters. Weela became very excited. She refused to let them cross where they were trying to do so. She barked continuously and kept running back and forth, literally herding them to another place where it was safe to do so. Unwittingly, these people had been trying to cross the river at a point where the waters ran particularly fast and where the water was deepest. Weela knew that this was a dangerous spot, so she led them upstream to shallower water where the group was finally able to cross to the other side safely.

After several months, the Tijuana River finally became narrow and calm again. Once the emergency was over, there was no longer a need for a rescue dog, so Weela went back home to the ranch full-time to enjoy life as before. However, her community heroism was recognized. As the Ken-L-Ration's 40th award winner in their annual search for the most heroic dog in the nation, Weela received a certificate of merit, a silver-plated, engraved bowl, and a year's supply of Kibbles'n Bits dog food. Surely, the people she diverted from disaster and the animals she fed when the waters were raging around them will not forget her. Weela's life seemed to have found its purpose and destiny.
However, if you saw her today running around the ranch, you would think she was just a delightful but ordinary pet.



Ruth Gordon

It Takes a Dog to Raise a Village
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